McDuffee race about future, not just past

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The murder of Morgan McDuffee isn’t something his surviving coach, fiancee and fellow Bates College alumni want to commemorate. But love and civic duty leave them no choice.

Without a celebration of the lacrosse captain and aspiring economist’s life, the next generation might not learn the appropriate lessons from his death.

That’s the reason Suzanna Andrew has returned each spring to the city and street corner where her future husband was stabbed to death, forsaking her own closure in hopes that an impressionable mind or heart might open.

Andrew is the founder and life blood of Morgan’s Run and Walk. It’s a 5-kilometer haul or 1-mile stroll (depending on your level of fitness and adventure) along the streets that surround the Lewiston liberal arts school.

It’s also a reliable gauge for planning your other weekend activities.

“It rains every year,” Andrew said. “I keep pushing back the date hoping one of these years it will actually be warm. It’s great that the people still come out.”

McDuffee’s memorial jaunt is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. The starting line is on Central Avenue. Registration begins next door in Alumni Gymnasium at 11:30 a.m.

Now in its fourth year, the run is certified by USA Track and Field. Proceeds benefit Morgan’s Fund, which provides grants to organizations dedicated to youth non-violence education through the Maine Community Foundation.

McDuffee died early on the morning of March 3, 2002. He had attempted to break up a street corner fight involving two of his teammates.

Brandon Thongsavanh was convicted of the killing in 2003. After the verdict was overturned on a technicality, Thongsavanh was found guilty a second time last fall. He was sentenced in January to 58 years.

For Bates lacrosse coach Peter Lasagna, keeping the darkest day in his school’s history in the public eye is admittedly a conflict. But it’s also therapeutic, and he hopes it will prevent other families and communities from facing the same tragedy five or 10 years from now.

“This event is one more chance not so much to think about how Morgan died, but how he lived,” Lasagna said. “There was always that question of how should we acknowledge this? Should there be a road race? Should we put up a sign and name our lacrosse field after him? And my answer is yes. This is how I choose to remember.”

The survivors have plenty of practice – too much, in fact – gleaning the best from a horrific situation.

Two trials brought them together for days on end. Cell phones and e-mail have helped Lasagna maintain a close relationship with the McDuffee and Andrew families.

“The community and the Bates family have given us a tremendous amount of support,” Andrew said. “It has gotten us through. (The race) keeps people going, and hopefully it raises awareness.”

Hopefully it continues, whether Andrew chooses to keep up the crusade or someone else takes the torch.

Now in her mid-20s and beginning life without her college sweetheart, Andrew has every right to turn the page. Memorial sporting events also tend to lose their steam after the first four or five years as participation naturally recedes.

“I’m really not able to say right now if it will be the last one,” Andrew said. “It’s hard to say until we see what kind of interest there is this year.”

Forever linked to her in mourning, Lasagna speaks reverently of Andrew.

“A large role in my life ever since the night Morgan was killed has been to do whatever I can to support Suzi Andrew and her family and Morgan’s family. If she believes for very personal reasons that this needs to be the last one, then I respect that,” Lasagna said. “It has to be a very difficult thing for her. I think about what it would be like at that age to experience what she experienced, and I can’t see myself being strong enough. She continues to astound all of us.”

The pre-registration deadline has passed, so the entry fee is $18. Or, if you’re not a runner but want to learn more about the beneficiary, go to www.morgansfund.org or www.mainecf.org.

But money is no object. If you can’t afford the full donation, you are encouraged to bring your sneakers, give what you can and run anyway.

“Having people there for the cause is more important than the money,” said Andrew.

In a solemn twist, Sunday’s course will steer runners and walkers down Main Street, past the spot where McDuffee was slain.

More likely, though, they’ll experience his spirit while standing at the ribbon just before the echo of the starter’s pistol.

“That is what Suzi wanted and envisioned,” Lasagna said. “To be standing there, to see authentic community and see that smile on her face is very special.”

koakes@sunjournal.com

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